Violence strikes Netherlands over black-face holiday figure, 'Black Pete'

Confrontations broke out or were narrowly averted on Saturday, scattered across the Netherlands, as supporters and critics clashed over a divisive helper of Santa Claus' Dutch cousin.

The sidekick's name? Black Pete.

To evoke the controversial figure, white people often daub their faces with black paint. Opponents say such depictions of Black Pete promote racist stereotypes. Supporters defend the assistant to Sinterklaas, the white-bearded, red-robed Dutch iteration of jolly old St. Nick, as a traditional children's character not intended to cause harm.

According to The Associated Press, while a nationally televised Sinterklaas parade held north of Amsterdam proceeded peacefully, there were clashes ar smaller parades across the country. For instance, police in Rotterdam tweeted that they'd made three arrests as supporters of Black Pete clashed with anti-Pete protesters. In a similar vein, in the northern city of Leeuwarden, authorities said they'd "prevented two groups getting into a fight." And in the nearby community of Groningen, police separated two groups of protesters to prevent a confrontation, AP reported.

Police in The Hague said riot police kept activists representing both sides of the debate separate as they were escorted to the city's main railway station.

Dutch media also reported that soccer fans confronted a small group of anti-Pete protesters in the southern city of Eindhoven.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte had appealed for calm on Friday, saying: "I think society agrees on one thing: we grant children the magic of the Sinterklaas party."